Primary school Osnovna Šola Gornja Radgona
Address: Prežihova 1, 9250 Gornja Radgona
Project: "Students writing their own school constitution"
Working language during the project:
Themes of the Council of Europe campaign “FREE to SPEAK, SAFE to LEARN - Democratic Schools for All” covered:
- Making children’s and students’ voices heard
- Improving well-being at school
Competences from the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (CDC) addressed and where / how they were integrated:
- Knowledge and critical understanding of the world: politics, law, human rights
- Through the process of writing their class or school constitution, students learn about the content of a constitution, its meaning for citizens, and its role in a democracy.
- Valuing democracy
- Through the process of writing their class or school constitution, students learn about valuing democracy and put into action those key principles of democracy that establish rules for life in a democratic society. By doing so, they develop a better understanding of the role of the Constitution for creating and sustaining democracy, increase their competences in democratic decision-making.
Target group age range:
- 11 - 15
Level of education:
- Primary education
- Lower secondary education
Short description of the project:
Citizens do not always fully understand the meaning and role of the state’s constitution -- one of the key elements of democracy -- because they don’t recognize it as a summary of founding principles, rules and values of democracy, which regulates the functioning of a democratic state and the life of its citizens. It is a founding document in which citizens can learn about their rights, the state structure and functioning, constitutionality and laws, etc. To address this problem, we motivated the students and teachers of our primary school to write a constitution for their class or school.
In order to present and simplify more complex articles in the constitution, we used an illustrated version of a constitution: Constitution in Comics. The main characters, Miha and Maja, present selected articles of the state constitution in a clear and simple way, through examples using everyday situations. During this stage, students learn about the structure and functioning of the government, human rights, basic principles of the democratic decision-making process… They gain an insight into the content, complexity and importance of the document for a democratic State.
In the next step, students compared elements of the State Constitution with procedures used in the school. In this activity, the teacher used questions to direct students to compare and contrast State structure and school structure, State symbols and school symbols, the national anthem and school anthem, the official language of the State and of the school, children's (students') rights and responsibilities, laws in the State and rules in the school, and procedures to change the State Constitution and school Constitution. This activity helped students identify the key elements that should be included in their own class or school Constitution.
During the next activity, students studied documents about Slovenian laws that regulate the Constitution, as well as articles on education that were discussed in the previous activity. Teachers guided students and, when needed, helped them search for corresponding documents (acts and rules on education, school rules, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Act on Founding the School Institution, rules on students' rights and obligations in primary school, a syllabus for the subject of citizen and homeland education and ethics, etc.).
For the next activity, students were divided into working groups. During this time, the working groups narrowed their study to just one field or one clause of the constitution, choosing from general articles, human rights, state structure, constitutionality and lawfulness, or constitutional changes. They read once more the selected articles from the State Constitution and studied the documents that regulate these topics in the school process. They suggested and prepared articles for their class or school constitution. In this activity, the teacher reminded students to bear in mind that their articles had to be based on democratic principles, that they should be aligned with human and children's rights, and that they should be applied equally to all students. Working groups drafted the articles and sent them to the whole project group for adoption.
The draft articles were then revised by all project participants, who had the opportunity to suggest and discuss possible changes. Finally, they voted on the articles. If the majority of the present students voted for the article, it was adopted. The article could be rejected with the possibility to amend it by sending it back to the working group, after which it could be resubmitted for approval. At this stage, the objective was for students to learn and put into practice the key principles of democracy by setting up democratic rules or articles for the group, while modelling democracy during the exercise. They also realized the need to establish the rules one needs for life in a democratic society.
Next, the group wrote the preamble to the Constitution. The students read the preamble as a group, discussed it with the teacher, and learned about the meaning of its content. On the basis of what they read and the discussion, the group prepared a draft of the preamble, in which they stated reasons for writing the school or class constitution and listed its authors.
During the final step, students made decisions about the articles that were previously rejected, rewritten by the group and then sent back for approval. At that point, the class Constitution came into force as an internal document valid for all participants of the school process.
- Through the process of writing their class or school Constitution, students learn about the content of a Constitution, its meaning for citizens, and its role in a democracy.
- They also learn about and put into action those key principles of democracy that establish rules for life in a democratic society.
- Students develop a better understanding of the importance of a State Constitution in creating and sustaining democracy, increase their competences in democratic decision-making, and realise the importance of including human rights in the document.
The final school Constitution was the result of a project through which students, teachers, parents and representatives of the local community could search for information about general provisions of the school, school rules, students' rights and obligations, rights and obligations of other participants in school processes, and the school structure. The impact of the project and the school Constitution was positive. All participants of the school process accepted the Constitution.
The evaluation of the project was carried out in a survey. Project participants and users of the constitution evaluated the content’s appropriateness, everyday usage and role in developing education for democratic citizenship and human rights. The evaluation of the survey showed that the important articles – which were included in the school constitution – are easier to use when they can be found in just one document, as opposed to many different documents. 82% of the student respondents consider the school constitution as very useful in everyday school life. The evaluation can be further carried out on a daily basis by observing the students' behaviour in relation to their promotion of democratic values and human rights, insofar as they live by the articles and values they included in the school Constitution.
Challenges you face(d)
At the time of writing the constitution, we faced several challenges and barriers. One of the challenges was to present the complex content of the State Constitution, its meaning, and its role to students of this age group. Fortunately, not long before the project, an illustrated State Constitution was published, which made it much easier for students to relate to the document. Students explored the role and meaning of the State Constitution through the process of writing their own Constitution and by accepting and promoting the rules and principles upon which the documents are founded.
Another challenge was the need to focus only on the most important documents, among the many that regulate school processes, and to search for possible connections with the State Constitution. At this stage, students needed to be motivated to tackle the large number of documents and information. It was a challenge to incorporate a variety of ways to write and approve articles on democratic principles, since through the very process of writing the constitution, the students developed and internalized the principles and values.
Composing the text of the constitution regarding children's (students') rights was also a challenge because the students did not fully understand the importance of ensuring equal rights for all. By focusing on their rights, the students often forgot the imminent connection of their rights to their duties. It was necessary to explain and present the history and content of the most important international documents in relation to human and children’s rights. The aim is to learn the importance of the documents and enable subsequent acceptance of human and children's rights, not only for their own benefit but the benefit of the whole group.
Time-frame of the project:
- One school year
Council of Europe materials on citizenship and human rights education used while preparing or implementing your practice:
- Living Democracy - manuals for teachers
- Democratic governance of schools
- Human Rights and Democracy Start with Us – Charter for All